Friday, December 16, 2011

Interview With Book Marketing/Promotion Maven and Author, M.J. Rose

M.J. Rose is the international bestselling author of 11 novels, including Lip Service- where she pioneered electronic self-publishing and later landed a traditional publisher, The Halo Effect, and The Reincarnationist series. She is a founding member of International Thriller Writers and serves on the board as well as being the founder of the first marketing company for authors: Her two popular blogs are Buzz, Balls & Hype and Backstory.  She has been profiled in Time magazine, Forbes, The New York Times, Business 2.0, Working Woman, Newsweek and New York Magazine.
1) From the Beginning~
Through the blog you devote to book promotion, Buzz, Balls and Hype, you feature an interesting column by Susan O’Doherty, PhD, a clinical psychologist and fiction writer specializing in working with creative artists and their process.  A recent series was focused on beginnings- how writers prepare themselves professionally, emotionally and psychologically for the emergence into the world of their next novel.  In the January Magazine interview by Linda Richards, you responded to a question asking about what particular characters you related to in a novel by saying, “I don’t do that in my novels.  I write to entertain myself and I don’t want me to be in there.”
Referencing the two quotes below about this process of entering the writing, my question would be how do you prepare yourself to begin a book?  If your process involves a measure of personal distance, how do you clean the slate of your mind so to speak and write upon a blank canvas, choose your language and keep your own passions/convictions separate from the writing?
In Reporting the Universe, E.L. Doctorow writes of the origins of a book and the process of writing as follows:
 “The truth of the matter is that the creative act doesn’t fulfill the ego but changes its nature.  As you write you are less the person you ordinarily are- the situation confers strength.  You learn to trust what comes to you unbidden.  An idea, an image, a voice, comes to you as a discovery, and you don’t possess what you write any more than the mountain climber possesses the mountain.”
“A book begins as an image, a sound in the ear, the haunting of something you don’t want to remember, or perhaps a great endowing anger.  But it is not until you find a voice for whatever is going on inside you that you can begin to make a coherent composition.  The language you find precedes your intention or, if not, is sure to transform it.”

I’m afraid my answer is not as interesting as your question – or Doctorow’s quote. I start a journal for each new book and create the main character’s world – his or her likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, and wishes.
I collect the ticket stubs for a performance of the Metropolitan Opera that she went to, a postcard from her mother's first trip to Europe, a piece of the red and white string on the pastry box from her grandmother's apartment: it's all in the scrapbook.
While I’m searching, I’m also looking for the question I want the book to answer  - because for me every novel answers a question that I have – even if no reader ever knows the question – or the answer – that process is what keeps me interested, motivated, and curious.

2) On Mediums~
Having lived across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for various periods in your life (both as a young child and an adult) as well as being an art major at Syracuse University, art plays a major role in your life and in your creative work from its incorporation into your novels to your former role as a creative director at a New York City ad agency.  You’ve spoken of your love of the artist’s life- the preference of museums to bookstores, art supply stores to computer stores and how art as opposed to the written word, can move you without logic.  Although these artistic mediums have great differences, they both serve as significant forms of your individual expression.  Talk to us about how and whether these disciplines feed one another in your work- not just in combining them, for instance to write about art as in the Reincarnationist series, but how the detail used in art might aid your descriptive prowess in prose or how the formulation of a story might inspire the way a piece of art or a series of paintings come together.

Art feeds me. I don’t feel whole or happy if I don’t visit a museum or art gallery or sit down with a book of paintings every few days. I imagine that the act of looking is for me both an escape and a discipline. It kick-starts my imagination on some subliminal level and pushes me into a state of being where my creativity is engaged.
At the same time, I am aware that when I write I am seeing  - literally – the story in my mind and writing down what I see as opposed to focusing on the words I am writing. 
I think I am still a painter. My imagination paints scenes in my mind and I use words to draw them into coherent stories, frame by frame.

3) On Psychology~
In the Butterfield Institute novels, your latest e-book In Session and the Jungian philosophies of the Reincarnationist series, there is a clear passion for the study of psychology, a hunger to understand the darker corridors of the human mind, seldom explored in such explicit detail.  In the opening scene of The Hypnotist, when protagonist Lucian Glass discovers the young woman slain against the picture frame “as if she were its masterpiece”, an interesting concept is introduced- as though an individual is a piece of artwork within the confines of a frame.  Throughout the series, “memory tools” are used to access aspects of the self beyond limitations of time and space.  You’ve compared the act of writing to a “memory tool” that you use to step into a different consciousness, free of worry about any one person or thing.  Had the professional callings of art, marketing and writing not stuck for whatever reason, could you see yourself as having gone into psychology and having been comfortable with the required professional distance free from emotional attachment to cases?  Also, what “memory tool” or method do you use to step out of your professional modes and access revitalizing serenity in your down time?  In other words, how do you turn ‘off’ from work in your spare time and do those ‘just for you’ activities that replenish the spirit?

I did try for a while to become a therapist and while I was very satisfied and stimulated by learning and listening what frustrated me and ultimately led me to realize I couldn’t follow that path was I wanted also to suggest solutions.
I wanted to write the ends to the patient’s stories.
Luckily I had a great supervisor who pointed that out to me and steered me back to the world of fiction where I could analyze as well as write the ending.
Between the lines and under my stories, you might see that every book I’ve written is really a psychological exploration of the main character.  I write about how who we were influences and dictates who we are and how we have to come to terms with our past before we can hope to find our way to a satisfying future.
As for turning off work – I don’t try to turn it off. I’m a very nervous person and my mind is overactive so if I don’t have a characters to fuss over and worry about I’d  be worrying too much about the real people in my life and  torturing them with my anxiety.

4) On Self-Publishing~
The hot topic you read about almost every day in the industry right now is the advent of self-publishing through e-books. No stranger to the process, you began with your novel Lip Service in 1998. Having a supportive agent yet finding no place for the book as editors cited marketing difficulties, you knew that with your advertising background you could sell copies online. Setting the price at $9.95 and putting it up on a website, you began to aggressively market the novel. It was chosen by the Doubleday Book Club and went on to be picked up by a traditional publisher. You caution writers, however, that though it is an example of self-publishing success that it was a means to an end and not a career move; the intention was not to stay self-published but to segue into traditional publishing.
Authors such as H.P. Mallory and Amanda Hocking have enjoyed the boom in e-books and then are able to make the choice whether traditional publishing is a fit or whether they’d like to continue on their own. Letting the markets decide has leveled the playing field. Mallory, like many of the new breed of authors enjoys a bit of both; she is now with Random House and yet doesn’t shy away from plans of a nonfiction e-book on her Cinderella publishing story.
With the excitement around e-books, it isn’t a wonder that the well-established companies/authors are coming up with their own e-book models.’s recent profile of Angela James who is the new head of Harlequin’s blossoming e-book imprint is food for thought. In a strained economy, purchase percentages are rising, not falling. In less than two years, fiction sales as e-books have gone up nearly ten percent. And what is selling even faster are romance e-books. Harlequin has caught the wave and its authors are enjoying the company brand while earning more revenue.
Although having been published by Pocketbooks (Lip Service, In Fidelity) and having found a regular home with Mira (a division of Harlequin) for a large portion of the body of your work including The Halo Effect, The Memorist, The Reincarnationist and The Hypnotist, you also recently published the e-book, In Session where the protagonist from the Butterfield Institute Series, Dr. Morgan Snow, meets with author Steve Berry's Cotton Malone, Lee Child's Jack Reacher & Barry Eisler's John Rain as a creative, erotic suspense novel.
I’ve heard and read of authors feeling limited by contracts on particular series in traditional publishing, having to conform to expectations of a certain expected voice and theme. Dabbling in different areas of exploration, writers have the key to all worlds and it seems that many are using a combination of traditional and self-publishing or e-publishing divisions to be able to have the freedom to indulge all of their different projects. Considering the modern market, have you found it creatively fulfilling to be able to transition between the different publishing mediums and do you recommend writers become versed in electronic publishing?

I don’t think it’s ever a mistake to learn about the business you’re in. It’s very early in e-publishing to know where it is going and who is going to wind up on top or how it will all shake out. But certainly knowing the landscape and keeping up to date on how it is changing is important if you intend to have a career as a writer.
For those of us who have been traditionally published, playing in both arenas is fun. But what does worry me is all the people I meet who talk about how great it is to write and publish a book in a couple of months. We need to respect readers and give them our best not our fastest if we want them to stick with us. And I am concerned that publishing is becoming more important than writing-that having written is more important than writing – that the craft is getting pushed aside for the accomplishment.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I read a review- a bad review – of a self published book on Amazon the other day.
The reviewer didn’t like the book and complained about bad grammar, static dialogue, flat characters, no story arc, and no conflict – all in all - that it was a very boring book.
Under the review, a commenter chastised the reviewer– saying he should back off – that the writer had self published her first book and she was still learning. That she couldn’t be expected to get it all right first book out of the gate. That she would grow with more books and that the reviewer should be supportive and more helpful. Didn’t the reviewer know how hard it was to write a book?
The exchange pointed up where self-publishing doesn’t serve the author because that isn’t the way to learn the craft.

5) On Storytelling True~
It has been theorized by Carl Jung and numerous authors that we as humans learn best by the use of stories.  In the O Magazine article, “Ask Your Mother To Tell You A Story”, you reveal the importance of knowing the stories of the significant women in our life and how these have an effect on different aspects of our lives and our understanding of them.  From your great-grandfather, you were introduced to the concept of past lives as reflected in the Reincarnationist series.  When I decided at about twelve years old to go collecting stories from the eldest living generation in my family, a world opened up about who I was, where I came from and who I would become.  Having spent the time with my great aunts and uncles and grandmother to learn about their amazing lives, even if the anecdote was about just one moment, was a precious experience for me that I appreciate even more now as many of them are no longer here to share those tales of the rich, influential lives they lived, affecting in a positive way politics locally and nationally.  Talk to us about how stories you’ve gathered from family members and close friends have shaped your life both personally and as an author.

I remember my father telling me bedtime stories he made up on the spot – about a little girl named Abakazoo who lived in Kalamazoo whose life was surprisingly like mine but much more dramatic and colorful. Every night he told me a new installment. I was enthralled. There was so much magic in those stories. In how the ordinary me – turned into the fabulous, interesting adventurous little girl who lived on the other side of the world.
Recently, I asked him about those stories and he launched into a new one.
He was the storyteller in my family. My mother was the reader.
And between the two of them...

6) On Time Management~
Today, more than ever, authors aren’t just writers- they are publicists, managers, and in the case of self-publishing, publishers and agents as well. Social media and blogs are fantastic ways to spread the word but like so many of us know, they can chip away at our precious time, become black holes and result in neglect of the actual creative work. Networking is essential life-blood to the author (new or established). Dena Harris in “Making the Connection”featured in Novel and Short Stories Market, advises you spend 10 minutes of each writer-work day networking. With AuthorBuzz (your company that focuses on marketing ad campaigns for writers), your various blogs and new titles, you are well-versed in the balancing act. How would you go about advising authors, both in traditional and self-publishing, to make plans to better allocate their time during a given work day? How do you feel they should go about formulating/organizing these plans and tailoring them to suit their individual needs/goals?

I’m not good on giving advice because everyone is so different. But I do suggest every writer remember this – no book ever dies anymore now that there are ebooks. And so a book is new to ever reader who never heard of it. And as authors we are our own brand and we need to keep our brand alive and vital if we are to stay alive and vital as authors.
For some of us that means social networking a half hour a day – for others it means hiring people to work for us – for others it means never finding a balance but always ricocheting between working on marketing and working on our books.

For more on M.J. Rose, click here:

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Scarlet Letter– A for Agent; A One Time Exclusive

The Scarlet Letter– A for Agent

Due to the forthcoming insights and intriguing material this edition of our member-only newsletter held, we've decided to share a one time exclusive peek on a hot topic with all of our readers.  In the Inscribing Industry newsletter this past February, we discussed navigating the highlights and pitfalls of the query letter when choosing the avenue of traditional publishing through an agent. There were theories, there were resources- but the following is a direct, inside look at everything "agent" from top-selling authors who share their views and then the perspectives of the agents themselves. You’ll hear some things that you’ve heard before in your foray into traditional publishing but you’ll also discover what you didn’t but should know all from the personal vantage points of professionals working in the field each day. Here to share their wisdom and experience are famed authors Erica Bauermeister (School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners) and Paul Levine (the "Jake Lassiter", "Solomon and Lord" and "Jimmy Payne" series) as well as agents Weronika Janczuk and Lucienne Diver.

See the q&a’s that you won’t want to miss!


Erica Bauermeister is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She received a PhD in Literature from the University of Washington and has taught at both UW and Antioch. Her love of slow food and slow living was inspired during the two years she spent living with her husband and two children in northern Italy. She currently lives in Seattle with her family. Joy for Beginners, released this June, is her second novel; see review (

Author Questions

1) How did you come to attain your agent and what factors contributed to your decision to sign with them as opposed to other agents or self-representation?

2) What are some of the most important aspects about your relationship to your agent and what direct influence have they had on your career?

My current agent is Amy Berkower, with Writers House. I’ve been with her since 2008 (School of Essential Ingredients). Initially I’d had a non-fiction agent for my first two books who has since retired. I obtained both through pure recommendation. For my fiction agent, I accepted an invitation to go out to dinner with a friend and author MJ Rose. It was typically outside my comfort zone to go to dinner with someone I didn't know, but I said yes. She asked if I was writing anything and I told her the title of my book, School of Essential Ingredients, and gave a ten word synopsis. She said that she knew exactly who I should send it to. The agent’s wife was having a baby at the time I sent it in and he didn’t get to read my manuscript for three months- he ended up saying that since his wife is a chef he doesn’t work with books that focus on food but by that time three other people in the agency had read it, including Amy, and they didn’t want it to leave their agency. It was a mix of timing and luck. If there hadn’t been a delay, the book might not have made its way to Amy who was perfect for it.

Since I’ve had the experience of having a good agent, I’d never represent myself- I was in real estate and I saw how important it was to have someone who did this every day as their job. As a real estate agent I would work with certain sub-contractors- they did a better job for me because I was repeat business as opposed to someone who’d use them only once- it’s very similar to literary agents and their relationships with editors and publishers; you have a more direct line in. We used to have a saying in real estate: "You wouldn’t perform your own surgery." It’s important to find someone who knows the 'neighborhood', knows the editors who like certain kinds of books. When it came to my fiction book and the publication process, I didn’t know how to wade through... wasn't familiar with the personalities of the editors, whether I should retain foreign rights… Amy advised me to keep foreign rights and we enjoyed even greater success with them than with the domestic. I value her advice above anything in the field. My advice to young writers is to say yes to everything- put your inner shyness in the backseat and get your butt out there in situations where you’re likely to meet an agent (conferences, workshops…) and to read the books that are most similar to yours; look at the acknowledgements page and see what agent is representing your type of work.


 Paul Levine, author of Lassiter, is a former trial lawyer and an award-winning author of legal thrillers, including Solomon vs. Lord (nominated for the Macavity award and the James Thurber prize), The Deep Blue Alibi (nominated for an Edgar Award), and Kill All the Lawyers (a finalist for the International Thriller Writers award). He won the John D. MacDonald award for his critically acclaimed Jake Lassiter novels, which are now available as e-books. He also wrote more than twenty episodes of the CBS military drama JAG. Paul lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on his next Jake Lassiter thriller. In LASSITER (Bantam; Hardcover; On Sale: September 13, 2011) this renegade lawyer makes his triumphant return as the former Miami Dolphin is still swimming with sharks in his latest, boldest novel of suspense yet.

Author Questions

1) How did you come to attain your agent and what factors contributed to your decision to sign with them as opposed to other agents or self-representation?

2) What are some of the most important aspects about your relationship to your agent and what direct influence have they had on your career?

I had a young agent at first as most people do, someone seeking new talent and trying to grow their list of authors, who I obtained through a query letter after a bunch of rejections. I was then at ICM (International Creative Management) for awhile, bouncing around until I came by my current agent, Al Zuckerman, the founder of Writers House, who I've been with since 1996. Al had been around a long time and had excellent relationships with publishers and editors. In addition to the value of his editorial input where he takes a look at the first draft, Al has been influential in the trajectory of my career, telling me when to get away from the series, do a standalone and when to return to the series. The new book is the eighth in the series, coming out after 14 years. Sort of like a metronome to music, there is a certain rhythm to my protagonist, Jake Lassiter; once I got back into that and re-read some of the books it was my voice again, it was me speaking in sync with the character. I'm a nostalgic person, so going back for me is fun.

In the publishing world, things have changed in the last fifteen years and particularly even in the last eighteen months; I can see that with electronic self-publishing. However, if what you want is a traditional publisher, I still believe that you need someone to negotiate for you. Despite the fact that in general things are changing rapidly, the agent has not become obsolete. If you can get a respected agent, why in the world would you not want to? If you've tried and exhausted those options, if you know your book is good, if that's what's in your heart, then I can see turning to self-published e-books because it is distressing how difficult it is to break in; I agree that it's never been harder. That said, when a print version comes into play, if Amazon were to say after seeing your sales that they'd like you to sign with their imprint, you would again have the need for an agent or lawyer to negotiate on your behalf and be your advocate.


Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008, after spending fifteen years at New York’s prestigious Spectrum Literary Agency. Over the course of her eighteen year career she has sold over seven hundred titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of over forty authors, primarily in the areas of fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, and young adult fiction.

In addition, she’s an author in her own right with the
Vamped series of young adult books for Flux and the new Latter-Day Olympians series of urban fantasy novels, beginning with Bad Blood, from Samhain Publishing. She also writes the Agent Anonymous articles for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and is a regular guest at Magical Words. Further information is available on The Knight Agency website:, her author website and her blog  

1) What led you to first decide to become an agent and between then and now, talk to us about major shifts you’ve noticed in the industry that are reflected in the author-agent relationships (what projects you are most inclined to choose in the current market, publisher’s level of approachability, preferences in how an author approaches you…)

I was a double major in college: English/writing and anthropology. When I graduated, I applied for jobs in publishing and to graduate school for forensic anthropology. I like to say that "publishing got back to me first," and this is partially true, but I could always have changed my mind and didn’t. I love publishing. I started my career at Spectrum Literary Agency as an assistant. I loved it so much that I spent fifteen years there before moving to The Knight Agency.

I could do an entire piece about the changes in the industry since I came aboard, but the big picture is still the same. My job is to sell books to publishers, and their job is to do the very best they can by those books. The changes are more about the specifics: what kind of books I sell to whom, what formats are best for these books, how to advise my clients on promotion and contractual language. Publishers have had to change the way they think about promotion and publication. E-books are no longer something that might become profitable or that they can consider in terms of readers stolen away from print publication, but as a format and force to be reckoned with and promoted. Publishers’ boilerplates (their standard contractual clauses) are changing year to year to adjust to the speed with which technology and shifts in buying patterns are modifying the face of the industry.

Again, though, big picture: publishers exist to publish books, so of course they’re still actively acquir-ing. Agents make a living selling books and representing the best interests of their authors. That hasn’t changed in the least.

2) How has your role changed since the beginning of your career? Many industry reports site that agents are often having to take on additional responsibilities of say an editor, publicist and sometimes even publisher- has this been true for you or any colleagues you know of?

It’s certainly true that my role has expanded since I first started in the industry. I’ve always worked editorially with my authors, now more so than ever. As mentioned, publishers are actively acquiring, but there’s so much competition out there that agents have to help authors hone their work to the point where there’s absolutely no reason to say "no" and every reason to say "yes." Also, it’s true that more and more agents are also assisting their authors when it comes to publishing and promoting their backlist, since it’s very difficult to convince the major houses to buy reprint rights to earlier works…sometimes even when the author is a huge bestseller. We’re offering more and more value-added services to help our authors succeed. The two things I most appreciate about The Knight Agency are our innovative approaches and the additional services we offer our authors, largely due to Jia, our amazing marketing director…everything from organizing chats to arranging group ads to promoting books on our website, newsletter and blog. She’s really a powerhouse.

3) As an an author and an agent, you’re able to see the publishing world from both sides- apart from the given advantages of networking and industry knowledge, how has your work as an agent influenced your career as a writer- from the writing to the publicity aspect? How do you believe your work as a paranormal young adult fiction writer might have been different had you not had the experience of an agent?

You know, I’m two such different people as agent and author that I keep the roles separated, even to the point that I have an agent who isn’t even associated with me to handle the managerial side of my career so that I can work solely on those of my authors during the business day. As an author, I’m…well, I’ll admit it, I’m insecure about my work. My first inclination upon receiving an offer for myself would be to say, "Really? Can we sign before you come to your senses?" I’d be a terrible negotiator. Not so as agent, where I have eighteen years in and am very confident in my role and my ability to read situations and contract language. I can take a much more critical role in haggling out clauses and terms for my clients. I can play bad cop. However, given my experience in the industry as agent, I can make more informed decisions about my career and the promotional efforts that I feel will give me the best bang for my buck. It’s very interesting, because I learn a lot about the parts of the industry from which I’m otherwise removed (the nitty gritty of revisions through production, for example) that I can use to empathize with and aid my authors.

I’m not sure my path would have been much different if I hadn’t had the experience of so many years in the industry. When I first started writing and submitting, I used a pseudonym, Kit Daniels, so that no one would judge me as either agent or author based on my other role. But eventually it seemed easier to be "me" no matter what hat I was wearing at the time. Unlike my YA heroine, I don’t think I was cut out to lead a double life!


Weronika Janczuk is a literary agent with Lynn Franklin Associates. Previously she worked with the D4EO Literary Agency and the Bent Agency, as well as at Flux, among others. Currently she represents a wide range of fiction and non-fiction for YA and adults alike—and is very actively building her list, especially in areas of crime fiction (especially espionage and literary suspense/thrillers), fantasy/sci-fi, horror, women’s fiction and romance, both literary and high-concept YA, memoir, and narrative non-fiction.

1) You've spoken about what first made you decide to become an agent- your love of books- and the fact that you thought you'd have to go into teaching to explore that passion and write on the side until you became familiar with agent/editor positions. Between then and now, talk to us about major shifts you’ve noticed in the industry that are reflected in the author-agent relationships (what projects you are most inclined to choose in the current market and why, publishers' level of approachability, preferences in how an author approaches you... such as how you mention you don't read queries and instead prefer to jump straight into the pages submitted to render a ruling on submissions…) and what fundamental lessons you've garnered through your experience that you would apply if you chose to merge into the profession of 'writer'?

This is a terrific question. Primarily, I’m seeing an increase in reliance on the agent on the author’s part—typically, yes (for the longest time), the agents have been fundamental representatives and aggressors on their clients’ parts. These days, with advances growing smaller and there being an increased difficulty in successfully making a sale, authors are placing a different type of trust in the agent—it is a statement of belief in traditional publication, of the agent being able to pull through whatever the difficulties; it is a statement of trust in the power of a branded publisher name (i.e., Random House), and in the power of traditional book-selling avenues and distribution.

I find myself making a similar kind of calculus: What books am I most likely to sell, and what books are most likely to earn out? Taking chances has become more difficult. Even two, three years ago, an editor’s passion might have been sufficient to sway a sales team at the houses where sales teams are part of the decision-making process, but these days, I’m no longer thinking of the editor as the only or primary representative. I have to be sure that a book’s hook or concept can be articulated quickly, and the best ones create visceral reactions.

It is changing the way that people write books, and the way people consider writing as a form of career. I imagined, once, that it’d be possible to write full-time if you churned out a book a year—but that’s growing close to impossible, unless you’re a highly prolific author who’s been successful at career-building. Lesson-wise, I wouldn’t approach an agent until my manuscript was beyond excellent, and I’ve seen from both an agent’s perspective and a writer’s perspective the benefit of having multiple manuscripts finished—and, depending on the speed of the writer, multiple manuscripts across genres, so that you’re able to debut multiple times, and thus build a career across multiple audiences that might have crossover potential.

2) The following is a question that has surfaced amidst new trends in electronic publishing and the wake of success with USA Today best-selling authors such as Amanda Hocking and HP Mallory: In your personal opinion, given the popularity and growth estimations of e-books, a refuge many authors turn to for a voice in the industry "letting the market decide", can traditional publishing retain its competitive edge by winning back some of the heart of emerging talent and author interest by taking small steps to personalize its interactions with writers again- as in rather than the form rejection, giving a brief paragraph of feedback for authors to work with, however subjective or objective?

This is a tough question because, yes, I think that agents and publishing professionals interacting more with writers could yield an increase in the trust in traditional publication. Unfortunately, the changes in e-publishing are making that more difficult—the amount of time that I dedicate to my clients’ interests has increased. I have to read more material, and explore more avenues. I’m putting in extra hours to teach myself how to format e-books, so that when the time comes, I can assist my clients in getting their material out there. And the Internet alone opens thousands of opportunities for e-marketing/e-publicity, so in order to make that push to earning out, I’m giving some of my time to explore new territory in that realm. As a result, in a way I have less time overall.

3) How has your role changed since the beginning of your career? Many industry reports site that agents are often having to take on additional responsibilities of say an editor, publicist and sometimes even publisher. You are known to be an agent who gets involved in edits with feedback that your authors value- due to the changes in the industry with e-books, do you see yourself shifting into new roles on the publishing/publicity side of the business?

My agenting career has been relatively short—it’ll be fourteen months at the beginning of October—and in that time my specific role hasn’t changed very much. From the very beginning, seeing how competitive the status quo is amongst agents, I committed myself to my small clientele list fully, as my clients’ partner in editorial work, submission, publication, publicity/marketing, e-publishing (I’m working, for example, with clients to e-publish novellas or short stories to offer a greater range of work upfront), and career building, etc.

Role hasn’t changed—at least not for me.

What has, however, and what will continue to shift over the next few years at the very least, is the specific business model—agents need to sustain their lifestyles, first and foremost, and they also need to offer wider services in order to keep existing clients and to attract future clients, and that means that the amount of work I do with e-publishing, and how I’ll be paid for it, will change. What we’re trying to do currently is determine what is the extent of the agent’s role. For example, I believe strongly that agents cannot be publishers of their own clients—in any capacity. There is too great a conflict of interest. Agents are supposed to be the middlemen, the representatives, and they cannot play that role in situations where they are also doing the ne-gotiations concerning publication and thus will have reason to make decisions in their, versus their clients’, best interest. ———————————————————————————————————————————

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Celebration of Literature, Art and Magic in the Autumn

Electronic Publishing, Organic Brand Growth and the Go-Green Initiative

Award-winning author of The Wright Scoop, consultant, lecturer, wordsmith and Public Relations Chair for the National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW), Sylvia Hoehns Wright recently launched her latest book, Market Share, make it work for you! based on nation-wide market experience gathered through one-on-one interviews, distribution of a survey, workshop participation  and column commentary.  Sharing her scoop – who, what, when, where, why, how and benefits of  acquiring  market share, Wright – as well as other industry professionals in various fields provide insight as well as practical guidelines, tips and strategies for implementing communication formats proven to ‘grow green’ market share or establish a form of marketing based on 'green' methodologies. Defined in simple terms – ‘green’ is a frugal use of limited resources which results in decreased product/service expenses, increased profit and earth-friendly activities that provide for present-day lifestyles without sacrificing the eco future or others.  A part of the book's focus is to help businesses and individuals enable a form of communications that establishes a brand of product; that product being you.  We've touched upon the concept here in our blog of "Be the Brand"- how it is necessary as writers to not only market our work but also ourselves in every facet of our professional interaction with the public domain.  Aware present-day globalized markets require that you don’t simply sell your work but yourself, through soliciting assignments, networking, and gaining credentials through education and experience, Wright became a recognized brand, ‘eco’ Industry advocate who specializes in business, communications and green-scaping concepts and who has also broadened the scope of her communications research to include arts/literary sectors.  As such, I was asked to contribute to this book a piece on organic marketing growth and brand development as it applies to electronic publishing and the writing industry.  What follows is an excerpt entitled, "Necessary Growth and Evolution".  A bio of Wright appears below along with further information on the book, Market Share, make it work for you!


Necessary Growth and Evolution

By Nicole M. Bouchard, Editor-in-Chief of The Write Place At the Write Time,

Two contributing factors have played a role in the go-green initiative that has taken hold of the publishing world.  Not only a result of increased environmental awareness, economic downturn has spurned a spike in electronic publishing to minimize costs.  Snail-mail queries and submission packages have been replaced by e-mail and digital upload forms while writers and publishers alike are turning to the electronic book form for the final product of the finished manuscript. In the industry, I've seen substantial change over the years with the most drastic occurring between spring of 2010 and spring of this year with the e-book evolution.  In less than two years, fiction sales as e-books have gone up nearly ten percent.  In the third quarter of 2010, wholesale e-book sales had reached just shy of $120 million.  These market shifts trickle down the branches to affect not only the way publishers do business, but also how editors, agents and writers do theirs.  With the entry of conglomerates buying up some of the most prominent book publishing houses as only a small percentage of their bottom line, editors felt the compression with a need to make more commercially viable decisions, narrowing the flow of approved publishing endeavors.  Agents started to be turned to in order to fill in the figurative spaces and pre-screen author projects to an extent that they hadn't approached before, meeting editors' new standards and acting as figurative gatekeepers to traditional publishing.  The writers, in response, had new roles to fulfill; suddenly they had to become well-versed in marketing, become their own publicist and learn how to sell themselves and their work from the query letter all the way down the finish line to post-publication.  Post-publication marketing had been a large factor originally associated with self-publishing yet it has taken on substantial significance in traditional publishing as well.  Electronic publishing has opened doors to accommodate these shifts.  Best-selling e-book author H.P. Mallory who has bridged the gap between self and traditional publishing by signing a contract with Random House, said of the current industry climate in a recent interview with The Write Place At the Write Time, “Now is the most exciting time for writers- the markets, the readers, as opposed to only the editors and publishers, get to decide what is a success.”

Our online literary publication was founded three years ago with the mission of creating a community-like atmosphere fostering growth and inspiration in the areas of literature, art and culture.  To be widely accessed and turned to as a resource, we have appreciated the online form that allows us to be cost-effective and keep the publication free to the public.  In terms of brand, we set high standards from the beginning that developed into our USP (unique selling proposition); what we're "selling" or rather "promoting" is a unique online environment in the form of a literary journal that addresses the needs and wants of the modern writer/reader.  As writers, we are ever mindful and in touch with the author experience (submitting work, having work accepted/rejected/published, etc...) and as a result of this knew what kind of publication we ourselves would want to deal with; one that maintained a personal touch in their correspondence/feedback and worked closely, personably with the writer to deliver the final product (this key component is knowing your market).  Add to the mix writers' hunger for knowledge and the near countless resources (some good, some not), you want a publication that guides you gently in the right direction with helpful tools, suggestions, interviews with best-selling authors, articles, interaction...  It’s often a guiding whisper of wisdom to say, ‘I’ve been there. Here’s a lantern and let’s walk the rest of the way together.’  Our vision was to create a safe haven of encouragement and warmth for creative expression. Our vision has evolved as we have; now we maintain those founding principles as well as add to them through the inspiring experiences we have with our writers and artists. We keep a personal touch to all aspects of the publication- everything from design to forming lasting friendships with contributors. We aim to inspire, educate and entertain on a profound level. Yet the aim goes far beyond that in our goal of carving out a very human visage (face) on the publishing industry.

We've recently started a separate blog to discuss the business aspects of the writing field and one of the recent posts is titled, "Be the Brand; Brand Management for Writers."  An excerpt from the post sums up the philosophy of what we feel and have observed a brand really is and the areas it touches upon:  "In each aspect of yourself that you present, in how you conduct yourself, the ideas/causes you champion or oppose, all of it makes up who you are as a writer.  The important factor is to, above all, be yourself and let the distinguishing traits show through.  Too many contemporary writers feel the need to self-camouflage and risk being lumped together by genre instead of distinguished by traits as individuals.  For your site, your book covers, your correspondence, your public appearances, pull together a comfortable theme that fits you and will have you standing out in the minds of readers, reviewers, editors and publishers."  A brand should be a natural, organic evolution of who you are or who your company is; communicating that brand extends to each outward facing component that you have of your business (and your affiliates) in the public sphere.  Publicity, promotions should all tie in with your theme- what makes you unique, your abiding philosophy and mission.  From our Twitter account, Facebook page to interviews done of us, there is always a clearly discernable voice and thread that lets the reader identify who we are, what we represent and how we work.  Carrying over those same standards to all our endeavors has helped in establishing our brand and meeting the expectations we set forth.  Reflecting on our three years of a publication and how we first began, it was always our philosophy first, then the action in adherence to that philosophy and then the effects which were the making of the brand.  Like the story of the king who sent two farmers out to grow a bountiful harvest, one hastened to throw down as many seeds as possible, over-watered them and tugged on the roots each night to make them grow; the other took a handful of seeds and patiently cared for them, nurtured them with love and trust, knowing that he was doing what he could for them, knowing it would take time for them to blossom.  It was the second farmer whose crop was abundant when the harvest arrived and the moment came to set out their bounty before the king.  It takes the same patience, nurturing and skill when it comes to growing and maintaining a brand. 

Market Share, make it work for you! author bio for Sylvia Hoens Wright- A former career strategies columnist for the Greater Richmond Partnership’s Work magazine (WM), Wright and the Green Industry. As a communications personality, she appeared on WTVR Channel 6 TV, FM 97.3 Inspiration Corner, WCVE PBS Richmond Channel 23 TV and Channel 35 TV Author’s Review. She is published by The Office, Data Management, Your Computer Career, Green Profit and Today’s Garden Center magazines, Richmond Times Dispatch, Mid-Atlantic Grower newspapers, and VA BBB & Information Executive newsletters; and blogs for Build Green TV and VA’s Plant More Plants program.
Wright provides speeches and workshops for national and international conferences such as the All Cities Congressional City Conference held in DC, corporate department and business association meetings, has taught communications for the Virginia Community College system, and is scheduled to provide a workshop for PLANET’s Green Industry Conference held at Louisville, Kentucky, Kentucky Expo Center, .
A graduate in BS Management of Communication Systems at VA Commonwealth University (VCU) and participate in MS Special Studies at VCU, Wright is a graduate of the VA Natural Resource Leadership Institute program sponsored by UVA and VA Tech and was the recipient of the Turning America from Eco-weak to Eco-chic AwardMarket Share, make it work for you! is available through Wright’s LuLu Store option, or any retail book distributor.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Part I Question 6 of Interview Series on Non-Fiction Markets With Writer Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.

6. Talk to us about finding the right markets for our work and developing a niche.
Writing, or learning to be a writer, is like growing up. From babyhood, we must learn to crawl (= write junk), wobble half-upright (= write a little less junk), walk in spurts (= write much less junk), run a little (= write more of what really is us), and finally gain balance to walk and run at will (= write in our true voice). If we could jump into adulthood from childhood or even early adolescence without living through each previous stage, we’d save much time and angst. In writing too, imagine learning enough from watching, reading, and hearing about others’ experiences, mistakes, unfortunate decisions, and failings to avoid them entirely. But no go. We have to experience it all.
What Kind of Writer Are You?

So, following from the discussion on submitting your work in Question 1 in this series, finding the right markets and developing a niche require, first, the same kind of trial-and-error learning and perseverance as crawling, walking, and running. The learning means continuous self-exploration, risk-taking, and careful attention toward discovering your true preferences and passions as a writer.  
The writer James Scott Bell tells of another very successful author who said to David Morrell, the bestselling intrigue/thriller novelist, “that he chose his genre by pure market calculation. And it worked for him.”
But, Bell comments, Morrell is “not constituted to be that kind of writer. He can write only when there is something (an ‘inner ferret,’ he calls it) gnawing at him, something that needs expression from the deepest part of himself” (James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Writers, Writer’s Digest Press, 2009, p. 62).
Which type of writer are you?  

The Passionate Inward Writer:  Are you a writer who, like Morrell, must write what you are led to and fervent about? What swells up from inside and cannot be denied, even through years of distractions? Does the unwritten essay, article, poem positively call to you?  Are you feeling what Julia Cameron describes?
If I have a poem [or story, essay, or novel] to write, I need to write that poem . . . . I need to create what wants to be created. I cannot plan a career to unfold in a sensible directions dictated by cash flow and marketing strategies. (The Artist’s Way, Tarcher/Putnam, 1992, p. 180)
If you are this type, you write, write, write, and then look for markets. You may make money, often don’t, and generally engage in other income-producing work.
The Practical Outward Writer:  Or do you love to write anything, and will—from corporate newsletters to trade manuals to news stories to profiles and even to short stories?  Are you turned on by matching your talent to the paychecks, the bigger the better? Do you crave to get into Woman’s Day, GQ, Scientific American, Esquire, Huffington Post, Technorati, with whatever subjects are trending now?  And you look forward to plunging into planning, researching, and interviewing as much as required?
If you are this type, look for markets that need writers. Study the articles in magazines and entries in blogs  and write to these. They may or may not overlap with your general interests. But as long as you’re writing, you don’t mind. With practice and diligence, you’ll become a proficient and reliable freelancer, often make good money, gain a reputation as reliable, and attract invitations to write more.
The Two Sides, Not Necessarily Warring:  Although I am the passionate inward type, as I’ve written more I’ve become familiar with various markets for my types of writing. And I sometimes write queries or pieces with these markets in mind. I’ve also branched out to others, such as the more “practical” book reviews and interviews.
Sometimes too, if you discover, as I have, that you also take to the “other” type of writing, your creativity is additionally sparked in both. And taking breaks from one type to the other fuels and refreshes you further.
So, reflect on the predominant kind of writer you are. Especially with limited time to write, what gives you the greatest glow? The kind of writer you are or want to become dictates your major market searches.
Mine the Markets

Sorry, nothing can substitute for homework. Like crawling to walking to running—and skipping—we learn by taking the steps.
Markets for the Markets:  Study the compendia. Get the current Writer’s Market and subscribe to its online market service or those of The Writer or Writing for Dollars. Also look for listings in your favored genres. One of mine, for spiritually-based essays, is Writing Spirit Resources ( ).
Buy writers’ magazines and routinely check the market listings. Subscribe to writers’ newsletters that always list several markets (Funds for Writers, Worldwide Freelancer, Writing for Dollars, Writers Weekly, Writing World). Such publications often include notices of new magazines, which could add perfect new markets for your interests.
The following sites offer excellent online collections of markets:
All You Can Read (
Mags Direct (
New Pages (,
Wooden Horse (
If your zeal centers on highly specific subjects, seek out those sections in the market collections and online trade sites. Send for or access sample issues online (e.g., Equipment Journal, Military History, Sew What?, Living the Country Life, Golf  Traps, Sump Pump Passions).
Hands-On Markets:  Go out.  Step into a shelves-and-mortar establishment—bookstore, supermarket, convenience shop, airline terminal. Scan the magazine section and keep an eye out for your genre(s)—travel, fashion, cooking, video games, business, literature. Pick them up. Flip through. Even buy a few.
Learn how to study the magazines for content and features. I’ve found excellent Jenna Glatzer’s Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer (Nomad Press, 2004), especially Chapter 4, “Study Your Market,” and the Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, edited by Michelle Ruberg (Writer’s Digest Books, 2005). Keep an eye out too for articles in the writing magazines and blogs on dissecting the magazines you drool to get published in.
Research the blogs in your subjects (with, for example, Technorati or Google Blog Search). Read a couple of weeks’ worth of entries on the blogs you yearn to become part of, and go back to the first posts. This is generally where the originator speaks about purposes and hopes for the blog, important information to know as you think about writing for it.  For ProBlogger (
Notice the styles, word counts, and comments. Write a few blogs for yourself and send in one or two. You may be surprised at how quickly the blogmaster welcomes your contribution. See ProBlogger ( for a huge collection of both subjects and wisdom on many aspects of blogging. Additional excellent blogging tips, whether you are new or experienced, can be found in Monica Bhide’s “10 Ways Writers Lose Blog Traffic and Alienate Readers” ( 
All these suggestions take research and time. But they’re necessary to increase your chances of success. Eventually you’ll become familiar with the most appropriate markets, scan newsletters faster, and develop a sense for additional markets in your favorite topics and areas.
Uncover Your Niche

The same touchstone applies to your niche-uncovering as your market-mining: What are you passionate about? What must you write about? What writing project makes you so excited that even though you’re bone-weary you can hardly fall asleep and awake spontaneously at first light, rarin’ to commune with your mouse?
Of course, writers of the two types we just talked about, and many variations along the continuum, find their niche(s) based on their likes and passions. Longtime freelancer Kelly James-Enger, a personal trainer herself, specializes in subjects involving health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition, as well as writing craft and informational articles. Christina Hamlett, playwright, columnist, and consultant, concentrates on writing and producing plays and helping screenwriters with wise how-tos. Jennifer Brown Banks writes in a wide range of subjects for many blogs and newsletters. Jane McBride Choate publishes adult romances, stories for adults and children, and writing craft pieces.
Follow the Signs to Your Niche

You discover and develop your niche(s) through your writing. Here’s some help:
1.    Who and what did you read, wallow in, escape to, as a kid?
2.    When you have time to read (sure), do you choose these same or other authors, works, genres?
3.    Do you feel an aching admiration for the authors you read and wish beyond all to write like them? 
4.    Do you get a special kick out of writing on certain subjects and genres?
5.    Do other people compliment your writing in certain subjects and genres?
6.    Are you getting accepted, more and more, in certain subjects and genres?
7.    Do you want to write more in these?
Your answers are all clues and signs to your beckoning niche.
Heed them.
A caution: Once you find your niche(s), don’t use the old excuse that the field is too crowded. This kind of “Yes, but . . .” dampens your new found ardor and shuts down your motivation. Instead, look at all the successful people in every field and others coming up. Look at all the writers on writers’ craft, on fashion, fitness, and fad diets. All the novelists, columnists, and poets. All the new actors, singers, and reality stars. What does this tell us? That there’s always room for someone good. Remember and repeat this to yourself.
And who knows—you may invent a new niche. Who ever heard of chicklit until a few years ago? Or paranormal romance? Or nanny tell-alls? Or fashionista fantasies? Or spy chefs and secret-ingredient agents? Or nuns with guns? Or Caribbean time-sharing vampires? (Sorry, I got carried away.)
Above all, I implore you: Write what you love and feel passionate about, whether of the passionate or practical variety. Don’t write what you think you should write, what’s selling, or what another author is writing and selling. If you don’t follow your writing bliss, your lukewarmness will come through, despite your most dazzling wordplay.
As you persist, allow out more of your passion. Maybe your chosen niche will be shared with others, and maybe they’ll be successful. Fine. But no one else can or will write like you.
Whatever your subject and genre, write in your most honest and open self. As you crawl, walk, and run, with pen to paper and fingers to keyboard, you’ll find, develop, master, and command your niche.
© 2011 Noelle Sterne

Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 250 articles, essays, stories, and poems in print and online venues, including The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Writers’ Journal, 11.11, Soulful Living, &Unity Magazine. Articles this autumn appear in Children’s Book Insider, Going Bonkers, The Writer, and Writers’ Journal.
With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally). She is completing a psychological-spiritual-pragmatic handbook based on her dissertation consulting, Grad U: How to Survive and Succeed in Graduate School, Get Your Degree, and Ease the Trip for Yourself and Everyone Who Has to Live with You.
In Noelle’s new book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she uses “practical spirituality” and examples from her consulting practice and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her radio interview on Unity Online Radio’s Village Events and Voices, hosted by Dean Ted Collins, is available for free download at
Visit Noelle’s website at
An essay on Noelle’s own reframing of the past appears in The Moment I Knew: Reflections from Women on Life's Defining Moments (Sugati Publications, September 2011). In August 2011, she hosted a national book salon of authors in this volume discussing their work, writing, and women’s special issues in writing. The transcript is available at
Noelle Sterne
Author, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
Unity Books, 2011
Reconnecting You to Your Power

Monday, August 22, 2011

Part I Question 5 of Interview Series on Non-Fiction Markets With Writer Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.

Coaching Writers Through Technical and Creative Blocks 

5.  What are a few of the differences that you've discovered between coaching writers through technical as opposed to creative writing blocks? 

Why Writers Seek Coaching

Writers who seek coaching have different motives and hopes from writers who seek critiques of their work. As apprehensive as critique-seeking writers may feel about actually getting others’ assessments, they’ve produced the work and secretly want to shove it in the face of their fourth-grade red-penciling teacher (and their mothers). They want specific improvements and suggestions for how the work can be strengthened, made more dramatic, and snatched up by an ecstatic agent.

When writers look for coaching, they have other objectives and usually feel blocked in one or more ways. They may feel weak in the basic mechanics—grammar, spelling, punctuation, correct use of parts of speech, syntax (how words are combined to construct sentences), conventions of the genre (such as for dialogue), and required submission formats. Their lack of knowledge or facility fuels their insecurity and anxiety and they become frozen in their writing.

Or writers feel something uncomfortable in the vicinity of their lower abdomen that tells them they need more knowledge and comprehension in other technical aspects of writing. These include major parts of a story or novel.

     What’s the best point of view—first person, “I,” or third, “he”? What is the proper choice of and emphasis on main character(s)?
     How detailed should character descriptions be? Just enough without telling too much.
     How long should setting descriptions go on? Enough to give the flavor but not so much that they go on for purple pages.
     What’s the appropriate language for the subject and genre? Not everyone should speak in text or drop all final consonants.
     Are the details consistent? The main character should remain in the vicinity of 300 pounds and 7 feet 4 inches throughout.
     Is the story “arc” or plot satisfying? Boy meets girl, boy meets dog, boy loses girl, boy gets dog, boy in doghouse, boy alibis to girl, girl forgives boy, dog has puppies.

Or writers, even experienced ones, may feel they can’t write another word. It’s not only that they haven’t slept in thirty-two hours because of a massive project at their day (and night) job. Rather, that censuring lawn gnome staring from weeds beneath the window, or the gremlin glued to their shoulder or lodged in their head snorts derision at every attempt. The writers feel they have nothing fresh or unique to say. The gnome cackles. The writers mumble, “What’s the point?” and stuff in another cran-nut muffin.

How Technical Are Technical Problems?

Writers often let the technical aspects consume them. They hone in on these as if mastery will make them recognized writing geniuses. If they don’t know how to spell “commitment” correctly (I had to learn to drop a second middle “t”), they feel that correction with equal acceptance. They assiduously try to ferret out technical errors when they should be using writing time to ask themselves questions about character aliveness, dramatic focus, story line, and other creativity-related issues.

Writers who seek help for some basic technical problems can be directed to a good English grammar book (borrow one from the neighbor’s kid in middle school). They can hire a tutor or explore the many online resources, workshops, and exercises available (for example, those on the Writer’s Digest pages). Sometimes an A-in-English friend or instructor can be enlisted for technical editing favors. And reading—advice I’m sure you’ve heard before—helps greatly. A mysterious osmosis takes place when you read, and it beats trying to memorize grammar rules—you absorb good use of English.

But when I suggest such fixes, writers usually protest. They know that deficiency in mechanics only masks their real problems. Technically-stuck writers are usually stuck creatively. They’re letting their real or perceived English comp deficiencies get in the way of creating. So, to me, helping writers smash through creative blocks is the more fundamental and important type of coaching.

I focus on teaching them what to look for (e.g., too much passive voice and use of forms of “is,” overuse of adjectives, repetition of “pet” words and phrases, and lapses into clichés). Too, I dive into their manuscripts with hands-on editing and ask them to study what I’ve done. They can learn from my revisions and suggestions. Then we talk about why I suggested adding a certain detail or omitting a certain scene and their responses. We also think together about other possibilities and ways to express, say, Sam’s secret motivation, Barbara’s torrent of tears, or Karl’s shocking actions.

As we deal with various aspects of their work, I help writers explore print and online resources specific to their broader issues. The writing magazines have fine articles in almost every issue on such issues. I may recommend writing books. Here are some excellent ones:
     For short stories and novels, Nancy Kress’ Beginnings, Middles and Ends (Writer’s Digest Books, 1999).
     For articles and queries, Moira Allen’s Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (Allworth, 2006).
     For plays, Christina Hamlett’s Screenwriting for Teens (Michael Weiss Productions, 2006).
     For every genre, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing (New York Writers Workshop, 2006).

Getting Beneath the Block

For serious blocks, first I ask (maybe hard) questions about writers’ purposes in writing at all. Do you really want to write? What do you see yourself doing instead, today and tomorrow? How do you feel when you write? Who told you it was okay (or not) to use your time for writing?

Then I ask when they first felt the block. In the current piece? We explore when the block started threatening and whether it could have been connected to feeling stymied at a particular turn (what the hero should do next, how much to describe the new love interest, whether to introduce the hero’s mother). I also ask how satisfied writers feel in fulfilling the purpose of the piece and what could be missing.

Did the block sneak up when writers were anticipating the next piece? Did they feel inadequate to the task? Didn’t know enough about the subject? Compared themselves to prominent experts? Were they gripped by a complete loss of confidence in their writing abilities?

With the right accepting environment, despite squirming and stuttering, writers will blurt out what’s really bothering them. I can conjecture, advise, and point out, but the writers know. Even with my prompting, their learning and light bulbs are always more effective when they themselves realize and verbalize responses to such questions.

Creative blocks are psychological, even spiritual. They stem from a sense of perfectionism, fear of success, profound doubts that one can’t “make it” or feeling there’s no more room, lack of deserving, replaying of old disparaging parental messages. I talk about some of these issues in my essay “Reversing Writer’s Guilt” in The Write Place At the Write Time (Summer 2011- See also a great little book, Rachel Ballon’s The Writer’s Portable Therapist (Adams Media, 2007).

More radically, I sometimes suggest that blocks don’t exist. When I asked a longtime editor for his advice, he said, “I don’t believe in writers’ blocks, boulders, or pebbles. As the well-worn phrase goes, every writer has to do the same: apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

Block Blasting Boosts

When writers’ negative convictions can’t quickly be scraped off, like chewing gum on the soles of your sneakers, I suggest one or more of several ploys. 

First, just go and sit where you write. Place fingers on keyboard or pick up the pen. Just sit. The American short story writer Flannery O’Connor advised an aspiring author to “set aside three hours every morning in which you write or do nothing else; no reading, no talking, no cooking, no nothing, but you sit there . . . .”[1]

Time management tricks can help. Set your timer for 6½ minutes to write (you can last that long, can’t you?). Dash off a character’s background in the 10 minutes before you have to pick up the kids from school.

Sidling into it often works. Choose something really easy, like a three-sentence description of the cousin who asks you at every holiday dinner when you’re going to get a real job instead of this writer stuff. Or recording your sister-in-law’s maddening repeated clichés about your style sense.

If you’ve pinpointed when in the current work the block reared up in front of you, ask yourself questions. “What do I need to add to make this scene believable?” “How do I get Thatcher out of this mess?” What do I really want to show about Georgette here?" "How does Clifton act now? Do I need to show his motivation—how, when he was five, his father forced him to bait fishing hooks with squishy worms?"

Or just put down how you're feeling right now. Whether you keep a journal or not, no one ever has to see what you write. Afterwards, you can hit Delete or burn the paper. I often recommend Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages,” three daily (eek!) longhand pages on anything. They are a great way to allow up your real feelings, rages, jealousies, hopes, and exultations about writing and everything else.

Just get away. Writers use exercise, cooking, driving, tree-staring, pet-petting, home-improvement-store browsing, partner-fighting, and many other methods to take breaks. (TV and Facebook aren’t the most nourishing.)

To get back in, if you feel you need outside help, look up writing prompts. They are plentiful in writing how-to books, articles, and newsletters. Or, if you really want an avalanche, type “writing prompts” into your main search box.

I must tell you, though, that I am not in favor of prepackaged prompts. As a writer, if you lob your pen at the dartboard of your life, even if it sticks at an outer circle, you’ll find memories pouring in and plenty to write about. Now you problem will be which to choose first.

Or give yourself a structured assignment. I recommend a site called “Six Sentences” ( All the entries are only six sentences long,  on any subject. They range from ruminations to mood pieces to complete stories. And you have a good chance at publication here (that alone, for bucks or not, can do wonders to vaporize a block).

Read a few of the entries to see the great array of styles and subjects. This is an excellent exercise for discipline, evocativeness, and dramatic effect. And you’ll (a) effectively break your block, (b) produce something satisfying in itself, and (c) have the germ of what could become a story or novel. [2]

Block Banishment

As you see, for me coaching writers differs in the technical and creative aspects. Each has its place, but, except for language mechanics, they can blur, affect each other, and, happily, help relieve each other.

When you next catch yourself sinking into a block, whether because of your poor 'speelling', thin character development, or internal whines about the futility of it all, stop, think, and question yourself. Use the suggestions here and others your fertile mind creates to get you writing again. Soon, without resistance, recriminations, or barking self-commands, you’ll find the seat of your shorts super-glued to the seat of your chair.


[1]Flannery O’Connor, Letter to Cecil Dawkins, November 12, 1960, The Habit of Being: Letters, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1979), p. 49.

[2]For more ideas to vanquish various densities of blocks, see my article “When You’re Not in the Mood to Write” (Writing World, 2011,

©2011 Noelle Sterne

Bio: Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 250 articles, essays, stories, and poems in print and online venues, including The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Writers’ Journal, 11.11, Soulful Living, and Unity Magazine. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally). In her new book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), she uses “practical spirituality” and examples from her consulting practice and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her radio interview on Unity Online Radio’s Village Events and Voices, hosted by Dean Ted Collins, is available for free download at
Visit Noelle’ website at

An essay on Noelle’s own recognition and re-framing of the past appears in The Moment I Knew: Reflections from Women on Life's Defining Moments (Sugati Publications, August 2011). On August 28, 2011, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm Eastern time, Noelle will moderate a national book salon of authors in this volume discussing their work and women writing. The discussion is on Firedoglake: Readers are invited to participate.